Bleak Future for Guyana AFC
Photo : Moses Nagamootoo
The launching of the Alliance For Change, as a genuine (multi-racial) third force, in 2005 was welcomed in the politics of Guyana to serve as a balance against one party (one race) dominance that the nation had been accustomed with since universal suffrage in 1953. The party’s rise and initial success (2006) defied the established language of political appeal based on ethnicity – the kind of politics that we have always known (except for the brief period of 1950 to 1953 when there was multi-ethnic appeal and unity). The AFC offered a vision of pro-people policies to reduce costs of governance (lean and mean government as enunciated by late Dr. Cheddi Jagan), reduction in cabinet size and ministerial salary. The ideas offered by the AFC for governance were ideal. And the AFC did quite well in three elections in 2006, 2011, and 2015, but its future is not bright because of its betrayal of the electorate.
So much hope had rested on the AFC that had comprised of people of integrity and decency, almost all of who now seem compromised not different from their predecessors. The party has given up its third force responsibility that has given balance to the country’s politics, and instead has seemingly morphed into the African PNC (APNU). Almost every political analyst on Guyana concurs AFC’s involvement in coalition governance has been a fiasco and its behavior has been one of opportunism rather than principle. And unless its leadership and or its concerned membership urgently decide to take an objective assessment of the ground realty, and act immediately, the party’s future is bleak and unrecoverable. Most of its support has vanished because of its inability or unwillingness to rein in the dominant African PNC in the ruling coalition in decision-making and policies. The PNC, like the WPA, has been pushing an African agenda and the AFC has not opposed the agenda leaving Indians out of representation in the coalition.
The last time there was a genuine third force (in elections) was 1964 when the United Force (representing White, Mixed and Amerindian interests) won 12% of the votes, but it also ended up in failure when it was outfoxed by the PNC in the formation of a coalition government and jettisoned before the term of government ended. Others tried to become a third force, like the Working Peoples Alliance and Democratic Labor Movement, but both were cheated in elections in 1985, and, as such, their popularity or political value could not determined. Some personnel involved in the 1985 election rigging (for the PNC) quietly reported that both WPA and DLM did quite well especially in PNC strongholds. Be that as it may, both the WPA and DLM disappeared off the radar by 1997 and the UF gradually lost support by 2001, becoming a shell of what it was in 1964, the height of its popularity. In came the AFC in 2006 to fill the vacuum, and it mounted a serious challenge to the two dominant ethnic based parties. And it did extremely well for a newcomer, although it did not garner much support in Indian communities, giving it the appearance of another ethnic party. In 2011, there was a switch in ground support in which Indians flocked to the party (attracted to Moses Nagamootoo who defected from the PPP), but simultaneously the other major ethnic group returned to its natural based PNC. thus, the AFC remained an ethnic party but this time depending on Indians (and to a less extent Amerindians) for survival. It was not until 2015, through the coalition formation, that the AFC was able to attract genuine multi-ethnic support. The African PNC-WPA asked the AFC to bring its 11% Indians into the coalition to remove the Indian PPP. And the AFC agreed with lofty promises. But in less than two years, most of the party’s supporters have withdrawn disappointed at what they perceive to be opportunistic self-serving behavior of the leadership or top echelons of their party; the Indian interests were neglected.
There is a virtual collapse of support for the AFC. And if the leadership does not pay attention to this reality, it is only fooling itself that it is popular with voters in much the same way that the leadership of the PPP fooled itself into believing it would never lose an election in 2011, even feeling so confident of Indian support that it put up a dour candidate as its Presidential nominee. In its seemingly uncertain future as a party, the AFC as a political experiment needs to be studied and lessons taken – why people were drawn towards it and why they are abandoning it in droves.
The AFC was formed in the context of an anti-corruption movement as well as to combat depraved arrogance (of PPP and PNC leadership), and of a move away from ethnic politics (although in 2011 the party campaigned on ethnicity and winning over large swaths of the Indian votes). AFC held many promises of a new politics unimagined (although the voters have gone back to their ethnic base because of the behavior of the AFC over the last two years to retain their political imagination). Unlike the other parties, the AFC leadership was very approachable (although the leadership, apart from Nagamootoo, is no longer accessible) – the poor working class and farmers could engage with them more meaningfully and easily than those of the two other dominant parties. The AFC leadership did not abuse people the way some in the PPP did (using obscenities even at respectable folks). The typical cuss out found in the PNC and PPP was largely absent from the initial AFC (although the AFC has become just like the other two). The AFC promised that democracy would mean citizen engagement in decision-making. This idea of citizen dominated politics had the subversive potential of forever changing (a revolution in the making) the nature of leadership dominated politics in Guyana in which the professional politicians (as in the two major parties) alone would call the shots. But the AFC, in government, has failed to live up to expectations in implementing this promised new politics of decision making from the bottom. There is no firm ideological lineage and linkage with the working class and poor. Aside from Nagamootoo, few have any working class roots in which they championed the cause of working people.
Everywhere, people complain that virtually none of the party’s promises were delivered in two year’s of coalition governance. The AFC, they complain, has become another run of the mill party. And worse, AFC supporters, they say, have been abused and neglected by the very ones who had condemned the PPP and PNC for neglecting their base and for being arrogant. The AFC leadership is behaving no different from the leaders of PPP and PNC.
- effect, a dozen years after its formation, the AFC started out well as a new party, but in government, it has become intoxicated with the old wine of the old political culture. Nothing has really changed in its role in government (corruption is rampant; waste is almost everywhere, people participation in decision making is out the window, etc.). Members complain that since coming into government, the AFC has not had much interaction with them. The leadership has neither channelised members’ energies systematically for the benefit of the nation or for the members, nor has it come up with any new model citizen participation whereby people can continue engagement in party work or participate in government decision-makings. The party curiously has stopped experimenting on the modes of citizen engagement in party decision-making. The AFC has virtually stopped holding open house meetings. But most notably, its acerbic attacks on bad governance and corruption has become mute once in government.
The party’s future is at stake. It needs to take stock and address the situation urgently if it is to remain relevant in the politics of Guyana or if it wants to be a paper shell like the WPA.